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Industry Advisory

Unlicensed Third Party Service Providers

The Department has received numerous inquiries regarding the participation by licensees
in programs operated by unlicensed Third Party Service Providers. These programs often
involve the operation of Internet websites through which consumers may purchase
alcoholic beverages.

While there are many different components to the various programs, the regulatory
concerns remain consistent. The Department has neither approved nor disapproved any
of these programs and this Industry Advisory is intended to provide guidance under
existing law as to some of the most common issues that typically present themselves to
aid licensees in evaluating whether to participate in such programs.

For purposes of this Industry Advisory, “Third Party Service Providers” includes persons
or businesses operating Internet websites for the purpose of promoting, marketing, or
selling alcoholic beverages. Such persons or businesses are often referred to as
“marketing agents”, “compliance agents”, “agents of the consumer”, “agents of the
winery”, “agents of the retailer”, “fulfillment operators”, “logistics providers”, “affiliate
marketers”, or similar descriptors. While many Third Party Service Providers engage in
activities that do not require licenses issued by the Department (such as, for example,
simply producing and maintaining a website operated by or for a licensee, or providing
back-office compliance services), many are engaging in activities for which a license is
required.

June 2009
Following are the statutory provisions typically implicated and the regulatory concerns of
the Department:

• Business and Professions Code section 23300 prohibits the exercising of license
privileges without holding a license authorizing such privileges.

• Business and Professions Code section 23355 authorizes the exercising of license
privileges only by the person to whom the license is issued at the premises
licensed by the Department.

• Business and Professions Code section 23025 defines the “sale” of alcoholic
beverages to include any of the following:
o Any transaction whereby title to alcoholic beverages is transferred from
one person to another for consideration; or
o The solicitation or receiving of orders for alcoholic beverages; or
o The delivery of alcoholic beverages pursuant to an order therefore.

The Department’s position is that any Third Party Service Provider soliciting
orders of alcoholic beverages for or on behalf of licensees is engaged in the “sale”
of alcoholic beverages and must hold a license issued by the Department.
“Solicitation” includes transactions often described as an “offer to purchase” by
the consumer.

The Department does not consider independent delivery services, acting pursuant
to the express direction of licensees, to be engaged in the “sale” of alcoholic
beverages pursuant to this provision.

• Business and Professions Code sections 25500 and 25502 prohibit suppliers of
alcoholic beverages (manufacturers, distributors and importers) from giving
anything of value to on-sale and off-sale retail licensees (respectively). In
addition, Rule 106(f) prohibits cooperative advertising by suppliers and retailers.
Business and Professions Code section 25503(h) prohibits suppliers from paying
for the privilege of placing advertising on or in a retail premises—such payment
need not be to the retail licensee directly. It can be extremely problematic for
suppliers and retailers to be involved in the same program through which
alcoholic beverages are sold to consumers, as the platform (website or otherwise)
will often be financed, in whole or in part, by suppliers with a benefit to retailers,
or retailers will necessarily receive benefits from advertising or purchase order
submission via the platform.

• Business and Professions Code section 25600 and Rule 106 prohibit the giving of
any premium, gift, or free goods in connection with the sale or distribution
(including marketing) of alcoholic beverages, except as expressly permitted. The
Department has observed that many programs operated by Third Party Service
Providers will include enticements or inducements to order alcoholic beverages,
such as free shipping or free items with orders.

June 2009
• Licensees may only sell alcoholic beverages to consumers that they actually own
at the time orders are received. As to retail licensees, to do otherwise could result
in a consignment sale between the retailer and supplier(s); as to other licensees, it
may result in the licensee exceeding their license privileges. See, generally,
Business and Professions Code sections 23355, 23393, 23394, 25502, and
25503(a).

• Management decisions, pricing decisions, controlling the distribution of funds,


and profiting from the sale of alcoholic beverages are considered fundamental
privileges of a licensee. As such, if any such decisions are made by non-
licensees, or if non-licensees share in the profits from the sale of alcoholic
beverages, violations of Business and Professions Code sections 23300 and 23355
may occur.

o Service fees are not, in and of themselves, improper. However, the


Department does have significant concerns when fees are based upon a
percentage of the sale of alcoholic beverages. The Department does draw
a distinction between sharing in the profits from the sale of alcoholic
beverages and nominal transaction fees charged by independent financial
service providers (such as credit card companies and banks). While
financial service providers may typically charge a transaction fee based
upon a percentage of the sale, such a fee is generally de minimus and is
otherwise unrelated to the sale or promotion of the product. Moreover,
unlike many Third Party Service Providers, such financial service
providers are otherwise uninvolved in the program and have no vested
interest in the promotion or sale of alcoholic beverages.

In evaluating any proposal involving Third Party Service Providers, licensees should
consider the entirety of the program and the respective roles of the various participants.

Violation of the above statutory provisions may subject a licensee to discipline, even if
all prohibited activities are conducted by a Third Party Service Provider.

If you have any questions regarding this advisory, please contact the Department’s Trade
Enforcement Unit at (916) 419-2500.

June 2009